UK retailer replaces soya with insects to cut carbon footprint

23-12-2021 | | |
An insect diet could suit our hens better   they seem to enjoy it   and the nutritional and added health benefits are notable. Photo: Koos Groenewold
An insect diet could suit our hens better they seem to enjoy it and the nutritional and added health benefits are notable. Photo: Koos Groenewold

Insect ‘mini farms’ are to be established on 10 free-range egg farms by a major UK supermarket to provide natural food for the hens and to cut soya use.

The insects will be fed on waste from Morrisons fruit and vegetable site in Yorkshire, creating one of the UK’s first ‘circular waste’ feeding schemes within the same company to produce food. Over 30 tonnes of fruit and vet waste will be recycled each week.

According to Morrisons, the move will save 56 hectares of South American land from deforestation every year, remove 5,737 tonnes of CO2 and save 40 billion litres of water annually. It is one of the measures being taken by the retailer to enable it to become the first supermarket to launch its own brand of carbon-neutral eggs in 2022.

Better Origin

Cambridge-based start-up Better Origin insect ‘mini farms’ will be introduced onto the UK egg farms to feed the hens, who will also receive a supplementary diet of British beans, peas and sunflower seeds. The ‘mini farm’ containers, in which millions of insects are kept, will provide nutrient-rich and natural food for the hens.

Soya currently accounts for 10-20% of hens’ normal diets. Up to 70% of the emissions from the UK’s supply chain is attributed to feed, of which soya is a major contributor. Morrisons expects the first carbon neutral eggs to arrive on its shelves next year, which will be followed by carbon-neutral options for fruit, vegetables and meat as part of its commitment to be supplied only by net-zero British farms by 2030.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after Stonegate Farmers launched its carbon-neutral Respectful Eggs in Sainsbury stores, where hens are given soya-free feed made of locally milled field beans, including lupins, mung beans and peas.

Insect units

The insect units have been developed by agritech company Better Origin. Each container can help feed 32,000 free-range hens and will receive 3 tonnes of waste fruit and vegetables each week. The insects can grow to 5,000 times their initial body mass in less than 14 days. Collectively, the 10 containers will feed 320,000 hens. Insects are a natural part of birds’ ancestral diets and wild birds seek out insects as they forage. Studies by Better Origin, the University of Bristol and the University of Turin have found that insect feed improves bird health and welfare. The insects are nutritious and rich in essential amino acids and healthy fats. They have no impact on the quality, taste or shelf live of the hens’ eggs.

Lower carbon footprint

Sophie Throup, Morrisons head of agriculture, said: “Reducing soya from livestock feed is one of the key challenges for farms needing to lower their carbon footprint and we wanted to help find a solution. An insect diet could suit our hens better – they seem to enjoy it – and the nutritional and added health benefits are notable. We’re also finding a good home for our fruit and veg waste. We think this could be part of the future of egg farming.”

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Fotis Fotiadis, CEO and founder of Better Origin, added: “We are delighted to be working with Morrisons to decarbonise their food supply chain and reduce soya reliance. Our vision is for the initial rollout to scale across all 60 Morrisons egg farms which would reduce around 35-40,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. The company’s on-site insect farms reduced transportation needs and maintained nutrition of the black soldier fly larvae fed to the hens. Achieving net-zero is a massive challenge that needs collaboration and determination and we hope this is the year that more food providers and producers taken meaningful action.”

In September, the EU approved the use of insect proteins in poultry and pig feed, on top of use as fish feed.

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Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist